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If you’re like me, you probably prefer to travel light: a backpack or small carry-on bag is usually enough for a quick trip, and it’ll save you a trip to the luggage carousel when you deplane (not to mention baggage fees). But if your travel plans keep you away from home for any more than a week at a time, you’ll want to consider bringing a full-sized suitcase.
Larger and more ruggedly designed than their overhead bin-sized counterparts, full-sized suitcases are meant to survive being stashed in an airplane cargo hold. They can contain enough clothes to see you through a multi-week Caribbean cruise, with no visit to the shipboard laundrette required. More importantly for some, the cavernous dimensions of suitcase or a huge rolling duffel bag are ideal for stashing mementos and duty-free swag from your time abroad.
We spent days researching which features a great suitcase should have before calling in eight of the top models on the market for intensive testing. The aim? To see which ones deserve your hard-earned money.
For information on how we test, what to look for and more, check out Reviewed’s full breakdown of the best checked luggage of 2018.
1. For the hardcore traveler: Travelpro Platinum Magna
Travelpro’s Platinum Magna 2 is the best suitcase to invest in right now. It’s made well enough that it’ll survive years of vacations, trips back and forth from university, or extended business travel.
The 29-inch design offers 137 liters of packing space, which was more than adequate to house all of the items we packed into it during testing. Measuring 29 x 20.5 x 12.75 inches in size and weighing weighing in at just over 11 pounds, it won’t fit into an airplane’s overhead bin or slide under a seat. But its rugged Cordura exterior ensures it’ll come out of your plane’s cargo hold in one piece, no worse for wear. The suitcase’s four spinner wheels are aligned by magnets. This guarantees that all of the wheels move in the same direction at the same time, no matter which way you push or pull the suitcase. Whether you’re wheeling through customs or throwing it in the back of a rental car, this suitcase is easy and pleasurable to steer.
On the front of the Travelpro you’ll find an expandable zippered pocket that’s ideal for last-minute items, shoes, or wet towels. Look inside and you’ll find that the cavernous main compartment is flanked by two zippered pockets that run the full length of the suitcase. One is lined with transparent plastic, making it a great choice for toiletries and other liquids. The other is made of breathable mesh, perfect for undergarments, socks, and other small items. Zippered storage panels are also sewn into the main compartment’s compression straps, there’s a large mesh pocket inside the lid, and a compression panel helps you stuff in and organize as much clothing as possible for longer trips. Should you need the additional space, the Travelpro is expandable—just be sure to weigh your overstuffed suitcase with a luggage scale before leaving for the airport.
You should know that while this suitcase does come in a couple of different colors, it’s not the most stylish bag. For something a little more fashionable, check out The Large AWAY Travel Suitcase or the Briggs Riley Large Expandable Spinner.
2. For the stylish jet-setter: The AWAY suitcase
Suitcases with a polycarbonate outer shell don’t wear as well as fabric suitcases, but they do a better job of protecting the contents of your suitcase from impact damage or being crushed by heavy objects in an airplane’s hold. If you’re looking for a new hard-sided suitcase to take on your next adventure, we think that The Large AWAY Travel Suitcase is a great option. Its tough yet flexible polycarbonate outer shell is available in a wide variety of colors and—with its textured, matte finish—is less susceptible to picking up scuffs and dirt than other hard-sided suitcases that we considered or tested.
Measuring 29 x 20.5 x 12.5 inches, The Large suitcase offers just under 100 Liters of packing space—more than enough to hold two weeks’ worth of clothing with room left over to haul a ton of souvenirs home. There aren’t any pockets on the outside of this suitcase, but the roomy interior features several mesh pockets and a clip-in compression panel that’ll help you keep your belongings organized while you’re on the road. As your trip wears on, you’ll be able to separate your dirty clothes from your clean stuff using the suitcase’s included laundry bag. And once everything you want to take with you is safely packed away, you can secure your belongings with the built-in combination lock.
Our only real beef with The Large AWAY Travel Suitcase is that its wheels didn’t always track well on rough terrain, but this isn’t a serious enough issue to keep us from recommending it.
3. For the chronic over-packer: The Briggs Riley Large expandable suitcase
We’ve never encountered a more robustly constructed suitcase than the Briggs Riley Large Expandable Spinner. Its heavy-duty Cordura exterior is protected by tons of plastic bumpers and reinforcement points to ensure that it’ll last through a lifetime of travel. Sueded leather handles and smooth sliding zippers provide touches of luxury in what’s usually a merely functional piece of equipment. We also loved its internal expansion/compression mechanism, since it made it a cinch to size the suitcase to suit our needs.
But as luxe as the Briggs Riley felt, it couldn’t match the myriad organization options that Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 provides. Additionally, I kept accidentally retracting the extendable handle while I was wheeling the suitcase around. That button really needs to be repositioned.
4. For the backpacker: The Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler Rolling Duffel
Not everyone has room in their home for a full-size suitcase. For space-conscious shoppers, a large rolling duffel bag can be a great alternative.
The Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler Rolling Duffel is featherweight at just a hair over three pounds, and can be packed down to the size of a couple of boxes of cereal thanks to an included storage case. When deployed for use, the Cargo Hauler has a 90-liter capacity and can be used with either a set of integrated backpack straps or by towing it around on small wheels. When wheeling the bag, you can pull it using one of the backpack straps or a dedicated handle sewn into the lid. The Cargo Hauler is surprisingly nimble given that it lacks a traditional extendable handle, but it’s definitely less than ideal if you need to haul it across a large airport terminal or several blocks from a train station.
5. For the casual travler: The Timbuk2 Quest Large Rolling Duffel
Made from lightweight, water-resistant material, the Timbuk2 Quest should provide users with years of service through hard travel. Like the Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler, the Quest Rolling Duffel can be shuttled around via a pair of padded backpack straps, or on a pair of chunky wheels. I particularly liked how far the wheels on Rolling Duffel stick out, since they made it easy to pull the fully loaded bag up and down flights of stairs. And thanks to its retractable handle, it’s much easier to wheel airports or down the road toward a hostel than the Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler.
Unfortunately, the handle’s inclusion results in other compromises. First, the Timbuk2 can’t be squished down nearly as small as the Eagle Creek when it comes time to put it away—the handle makes sure of that. Second, the handle takes up a lot of the interior space. While its overall dimensions are similar to those of the Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler, the Timbuk2 Rolling Duffel can only store around 60 liters of clothing and sundries. It was able to fit all of the clothing that our tests required—but just barely.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.